Shame. We all feel it. How many of these have you experienced in the last month?
The shame of overeating, of not knowing what we want, of binge-watching YouTube, of drunk texting, of being anxious and over-reacting, of being single, of lying and cheating to get what we want, of how we’ve treated others, of judging and looking down on people, of being selfish, of having dated that weird person, of not having accomplished much, of our bodies, of how that friend behaves in social gatherings, of being too sweaty in a social situation, of asking for help.
The list goes on and on.
These are the ugliest parts of ourselves- at least according to our inner dialogue. Things that make us believe we are not good enough, not appropriate, and that we have failed.
Shame is a big part of our shadows, the part of ourselves that we hide, not only from others but even worse, from ourselves.
I love how, in the bible, God only expels Adam and Eve from paradise after they became ashamed of being naked. Before feeling shame, they were there naked for eternity and everything was perfect. But then one day they got ashamed and so they were kicked out.
Get it? Nakedness was fine, it was shame that was the issue. Self-consciousness. Shame was not allowed in heaven. Why? Shame diminishes the person in question. If before they were divine, now shame brought them a dark spot and made them look down on themselves.
Here are five pervasive ways that shame keeps us small.
# 1 Shame silences us
When we are ashamed of something, we don’t talk about it, we keep it in, as a secret.
In shame, we hide, and we pretend something doesn’t exist.
Except, it does. What is it that we conceal? Ourselves. We hide parts of us that we deem ugly, for we think it is unlovable. We silence not only our voices but our behaviors, traces, preferences, and desires.
We do that even when deep down we know it’s not our fault, like when a woman is raped and is ashamed of reporting it and so she keeps quiet.
The inability to be honest, to relax in merely being ourselves, to communicate what is going on, all of these lead us to hold ourselves back. What could be more disempowering than that?
#2 Shame makes us intolerant and uncompassionate
In shame, we don’t allow others to see us for who we truly are for we fear that we wouldn’t be lovable. We also hide these parts of us to ourselves, for we don’t want to deal with them.
The result is, these habits or thoughts that we don’t share are inside of us, full of judgments, and they weigh us down.
Shame makes us intolerant of ourselves.
We don’t dare to look at these pieces of us we are ashamed of because we are unable to look at them with self-love and compassion.
This means we feel shame because in a way we lack tolerance toward ourselves. This is lack of self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-love.
Love is the ultimate healer. Not fear or guilt. And love starts with loving ourselves.
The thing is, the more self-accepting and self-compassionate we are, the more we get to be these things with others.
We live in a world of people pointing fingers. We are almost unable to say anyone is doing a good job without someone coming right after pointing out what they did that is not good, as if that invalidated all else. As if we were all to be perfect. We forget perfection doesn’t exist — the only perfection is striving to grow and do better.
We condemn others and ourselves. The result is, many people pointing fingers but not looking into themselves.
The more self-understanding we are, the lighter is our life, and the more compassionate we get to be as a whole.
“Honesty without kindness, humor, and goodheartedness can be just mean. From the very beginning to the very end, pointing to our own hearts to discover what is true isn’t just a matter of honesty but also of compassion and respect for what we see.” Pema Chödrön
#3 Shame makes us feel bad for being who we are
When we hide things, be it from others or from ourselves, what we are saying is that we are broken, that we are no good, and that we are unwilling to show who we truly are, for whatever we are ashamed of makes us unlovable.
Shame brings us discomfort, and let’s face it, one thing we humans are experts in is avoiding discomfort. We drink, oversleep, overwork, keep busy and avoid silence — all extremely successful tactics in the short term.
We can ignore as much as we want what we are ashamed of, but that doesn’t make it go away from within us and our subconsciousness. We just carry the pain in silence and unconsciously, which affects our sense of self-worth and self-acceptance.
The funny thing is that we all share this same self-talk and still treat it as something to be ashamed of. And just like that, we get a world of people who are not ok with themselves — and think that’s normal.
#4 Shame is a controlling mechanism based on fear and inadequacy, and not on love
Shame is directly linked with the feeling of guilt and embarrassment, and it could be argued that there is a good side to shame. Because we feel shame, we don’t urinate on the street when we need a toilet, and we don’t pull someone’s hair when we are angry. Shame keeps order. Isn’t that great?
Well, it is a functional mechanism. Now, is shame the best mechanism to “keep order”?
I’d argue that no, it is not, for it is the mechanism of a society that is based on fear, embarrassment, and guilt, instead of love, connection, and care. We can be honest with others out of love and respect, instead of cheating and holding shame. We can not overeat out of self-love, instead of pretending we did not do it out of shame.
Shame is a functional mechanism in a society that has failed to embody love.
We make women ashamed of embodying their sexuality, of dressing as they please for their mere self-expression. Society tells us certain things are shameful because our not-loving and power-unbalanced society benefits from our collective fears. And who are the agents putting in place these rules? We are, as we have internalized shame.
Our society uses shame instead of love and thereby teaches us to react to fear instead of acting out of love. Make sure people keep pursuing well-paid stressful careers they don’t want to climb the social ladder and that men who can’t support their families feel emasculated.
What kind of world do we want to live in?
#5 Shame keeps the status quo strong and makes it harder for us to find our own way
Shame is about expectations of conduct, mostly socially constructed ones. It reflects where we over-comply with external demands and/or lack self-acceptance and self-love. It is deeply connected to two questions: “what will others think?” and “what do I think/feel about myself?”.
Let’s say I am ashamed of not having achieved much yet. There comes a social belief of what success is, of where I should be. This is following the social “should’s, have to’s, must”. On top of that, I might not be accepting my own path, my own choices, and not loving myself.
Shame is an effective and powerful mechanism to keep the status quo.
When we allow shame to run us, shame keeps us in check and keeps us coloring within the lines. Yes, be ashamed you are not making much money, be ashamed you came back home emptyhanded, for you are not complying with our collective meaning of success.
And just like that, we have given our power and life choices away.
What we are really doing
In shame we put something under the carpet, but that which we are hiding is hidden inside of us, and it stays there, with us. It’s got emotional weight. The only thing we are doing is ignoring a part of us that we are not allowing to come through — but it is still there somewhere, being suffocated.
This is creating more repression, and shadows. Behind what we think is ugly in ourselves is where our true battle is to unleash our authentic full being. Our inner hero.
Let’s face it: heroes beat darkness and shadows. No, they don’t put it all under the carpet. They remove the carpet and face it. That is how they win battles and become stronger. That’s how they have a story to tell others.
There is no story about someone who hid, conformed, and did nothing about it, the end.
Empowerment comes from a place of self-love, of accepting ourselves so much that how could we possibly not be who we are, how could we possibly reduce ourselves and not fight for our soul?
When we feel shame, we do more than complying with social demands and lacking self-acceptance and self-love. What we do is hide who we truly are, what we truly want. We conceal.
When we hold ourselves back out of shame and don’t speak up, what we are doing is pretending to be something we are not. No wonder so many people are lost about who they truly are and what they want.
How to be free yourself from shame
Shame is social programming, based on what is expected, “right and wrong”.
To be free from anything, we need to first acknowledge that we are not free. That means we are in a prison in our heads.
Even though we are all social creatures impacted by all kinds of social expectations and rules, very few of us are actually up to recognizing we are not free in our minds and spirit. Acknowledging not being free is the very first step towards freedom, for this is what allows us to spot when we are not being ourselves.
To be free from shame, we are to expand in self-worth, self-acceptance, and self-connection. We do that by releasing judgments and expanding compassion towards others and ourselves.
We can begin by no longer propagating shame, and abstaining from gossiping and judging others, not out of self-repression but out of connecting to our hearts.
It is about living from the heart, where acceptance exists. Allowing ourselves to be ourselves, to look at ourselves, to hear ourselves.
Interestingly, this doesn’t mean being shameless: an important aspect of freeing ourselves from shame is to use shame as an inner compass, observing every time we feel it.
The practice is to observe what we are trying to hide from ourselves and others, where we are lacking acceptance, and, instead of concealing it, sitting with it. Look it in the eye and see where we are missing understanding, love, and compassion.
Shame shows us our bottlenecks. It is a teacher, offering endless opportunities to rise and embrace the wholeness of our being.
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